Road Ahead After 2004: Building a Broad Nonpartisan Alliance Against
Bush and the Far Right
By Carl Davidson
& Marilyn Katz
in the Harvest
What is the
most important thing about fruits? We have to harvest them. If we
don't harvest them, if we just leave them in the fields or on the
ground, shame on us! If we don't consolidate these gains, all of
our ultraleft critics who opposed the election as a big diversion
will be largely correct. If we allow all these gains to slip through
our fingers, we will have been little more than a tail on the Democratic
We have to find new ways to consolidate these gains into new and
stronger forms of organization.
We have a good
start in Chicago, because we were community-based to begin with
and the work we did during the elections just strengthened that
base. We used the opportunity of the elections to enhance peoples’
organizing skills – and there’s nothing like door-to-door
leafleting or doing voter registration on the issues to sharpen
those skills. Our deputy registrar trainings, development of voter
lists, even our coalition work added to mailing and phone lists,
which in turn were used to recruit people to participate in everything
from antiwar rallies and voter registration to trips to neighboring
states. And in fact CAWI’s consistent identification with
both the issues and the elections meant that at our first post-election
meeting, we had nearly 40 new people in our core group. We are clearly
a pole of attraction in our area.
But if we are
going to consolidate our gains and move forward, we also have to
be bolder and more visionary about our prospects for the future.
We especially have to be creative in fashioning new instruments
and programs for social change. In Chicago – and we hope elsewhere,
we think it is time to build on what we have done and create a new
organization – one that is:
in the anti-war politics that spurred the creation of CAWI (and
other entities) and will continue to give it energy, but over
time manages to develop a more holistic vision;
to grass-roots organizing on issues, particularly the war, but
with a willingness to work both within and outside the electoral
arena, recognizing that there is strength in ‘walking on
and nonpartisan by design, with a willingness to work with progressive
issues and candidates within and outside of the Democratic Party,
the Greens and others.
4) Local in
origins but aggressively works to create a national federation
of groups with similar interests and strategies.
5) A poll
of attraction and center for people whatever their level of activity.
Activists may be at its core, but our experience tells us that
it is important to create spaces where people can participate
at their own level.
This is the
context of both our electoral work and our prospects for mass direct
action. How, then, do we build the new forms of organization appropriate
to the tasks at hand? Here’s how we would elaborate on the
to be value-centered. Our starting point is the idea of
expanding the core values of peace, justice and democracy in the
political, economic and social spheres. We are not candidate-centered,
single-issue centered or party-centered. Our commitment is to finding
the ways to translate our core values into effective programs, sustainable
policies and life-enhancing changes here and around the world. We
are not anti-capitalist, anti-socialist or even necessarily anti-corporate.
We understand that meaningful and gainful employment, the anchor
of a decent livelihood, requires the high-road expansion of high-value,
high-skill productive industry and wealth creation, even as we oppose
the race-to-the-bottom rapaciousness of low-road corporate raiders
and polluters. We thus seek allies in all classes in society.
grassroots participation. Our organizations must be community-centered.
They must be neighborhood based, workplace based, faith based and
school based. We need thousands upon thousands of local activists
and supporters. They must be independent with their own finances,
donors and resources. It is not sufficient simply to make “coalitions
of letterhead advisory boards” that represent millions of
people on paper but can’t get more than a hundred or so folks
in the streets or a handful of volunteers at events. This requires
a practice of mass action in the streets as well as electoral activity.
It also requires a commitment to diversity, tolerance, non-sectarianism,
and a democratic style of working with people who agree on some
issues but disagree on others.
to be nonpartisan and seek broad alliances. Just ending
the war in Iraq will require a tremendous mobilization of progressive
forces, winning over of moderate forces and isolating Bush and his
Neocon hegemonists. It will also require the defeat of pro-war forces
in both major parties. Likewise, electoral reform is going to require
the participation of Greens, Libertarians, Progressive Democrats,
Civil Libertarian Republicans, the fledgling Labor Party and other
minor parties and political independents.
alliances are not new to American politics. In the early part of
the 1900s through the 1920s, the Nonpartisan Leagues were formed
throughout the Midwest, from Wisconsin to the Rockies. They rallied
the rural population against the Robber Barons and railroad owners
by running their own candidates, as well as running slates of NPL
candidates in both Democratic and Republican primaries. They managed
to take over several state legislatures and win important reforms
as a result.
Today, the GOP
rightists are pursuing their own broad ‘encirclement’
alliance of uniting the rural areas, winning over the suburbs, and
dividing the urban centers by appealing to a new version of “white
male identity politics.” We need to oppose it with a counter-hegemonic,
broad alliance of our own that exists as a new organization. We
can call it the Progressive Nonpartisan Alliance of Illinois, Progressive
Illinois, the Network of Peace and Justice Voters of Illinois, or
whatever. The concept is what is important, but serious workers
and serious funding must be found to start growing it now. Finally,
by starting it here, we will be in the best position to use it as
an example or ally of similar efforts across the country. In this
way, we can prepare for 2006, where we can selectively work to defeat
pro-war candidates and elect antiwar candidates.
to keep our ability to focus. We can connect and relate
to a wide range of issues, but we need to keep our focus on the
critical issues that brought us into being in the first place. This
is primarily ending the war in Iraq, opposing wider war elsewhere,
and opposing the impact of war, especially its racist and chauvinist
threats to democratic rights, on the home front. We are most effective
as a broad front against Bush and the policies of his War Party,
rather than as an anti-imperialist bloc that equally takes up every
conflict or issue against all Republicans and Democrats.
one of Bush’s top speechwriters, has an interesting piece
in the Nov 9 Wall Street Journal in this regard. He fretted about
‘ferocious partisan dissension’ hurting the war effort;
but if we are wise tactically, we are in a good position to expand
this dissension, and likewise oppose all the ‘bipartisan reaching
out’ and ‘healing the wounds’ rhetoric coming
from the DLC types. Frum’s also upset about Bush’s opponents
possibly taking advantage of the ‘inevitable mistakes’
in war; but we are also in a good position to do just that. Finally,
he worried about ‘partisan wrangling’ when much of the
Patriot Act come up next year; but we have the ability to encourage
‘partisan wrangling’ over the Patriot Act and work to
change and repeal at least some of its worse features. More